politics of the hap

ways of being (human) that were never sovereign

I’ve always been interested in people who don’t do as they’re told. They excite me, intellectually and personally. In my current work I am interested in those that are seen to have failed to recover from their grief over losing someone. What’s interesting is that it is hard, if not impossible, to identify cultural examples of someone who hasn’t recovered. The non-recovered mourner – like Freud’s melancholic – is the silent, shadowed figure that strikes fear in all us as we inevitably face the loss of someone we love. This is partly because in the modern rhetoric of recovery everyone is always on the road to recovery, and even if we haven’t faced a traumatic event we are (or should be)  always on the way to bettering ourselves, trying to be happier, grasping that elusive ‘good life’ fantasy. The non-recovered are read as resistant, refusing, problematic, troublemakers because they appear to be actively rejecting the normative fantasies to which we are all obligated to subscribe. There was a telling moment in episode three of the Channel 4 programme Bedlam (an insight into the work and patients of the Maudsley psychiatric hospital), where we see a social worker knocking on the door of the home of a woman whose health he feared was taking a ‘downward spiral’. “Why are we going to these lengths when she is living the life she chooses?”, he remarks. And yet the woman, Rosie, was deemed as not having the mental capacity to make a choice, and so by law choices had to be made for her.

Many things are happening here and here’s a few to point out: having capacity to make a decision is part of what is considered to be a functional, mentally fit, human being yet these decisions and choices have to fit into a pre-existing framework that already decides for you what is normal and what is not normal, e. g. going to work, waged labour, owning a home = normal; singing Christmas carols to yourself in July, having a fear of bedbugs = not normal. Being normal then could be seen as more about making the ‘right’ decisions than about the level of perceived control one has over the decision. Yet we are encouraged to believe that by virtue of being human we have sovereign control over our lives, our behaviour, and our choices. The problem with sovereignty is that when someone makes a choice society at large disagrees with, and this could range from being overweight or a refusal of a 9-5 capitalist regime, it is deemed a fault of the individual. The problem individual just needs to be turned to face the ‘right’ way. In what follows I am going to attempt to unpack the notion of sovereignty by heavily drawing on Lauren Berlant’s ”Cruel Optimism’ to consider how sovereignty can be unsettled by affective experiences such as grief and love and can only ever be an aspirational concept that might better be expressed as a temporary display of ‘composure.’ Composure, as detailed in the middle section, is also worn thin by an unending desire for the good life where for the worker the act of reproducing life is also the means of being worn out by it. In closing I start to move on from Berlant and think about what responses might be possible to an attachment to a wearing way of life that is not working.

i. How can I keep my composure?

Sovereignty, in a truncated form, is about having the power over one’s life and having the ability or capacity to decide how you live your life. Sovereignty is mostly used on political terms, as in the sovereignty of the head of state. As a ‘death’ scholar, I explore the ways sovereignty is interrupted, and eventually destroyed, through the inevitable act of death. Ideas of sovereignty, and autonomy have only ever appeared to me as unsustainable pipe dreams, that provide at times a necessary illusion in the face of getting on with life.

In a previous post I argued that melancholia and the refusal to recover or let go of attachments to the dead can not only be read as a sign of pathology but might be understood as an active choice to not be sovereign. This presents a contradictory twist – the right of choice we have over our lives can also be used to reject those choices. But there is also something more subtle taking place, it is about injecting the unconscious into the intentionality of the subject. It is suggesting that certain affective experiences such as love and grief can reveal to us we often do not know to what we are tied and why, the one who refuses to recover might not be aware of the ways they are attached to something that is actually becoming an obstacle to their ability to live a life. We rarely get to choose what interrupts our lives or the attachments we forge to people, to ideas, to habits, to objects. Grieving and being in love are great exemplars where these features are exaggerated, where to be able to grieve and to be able to love require violating the attachment to our own intentionality, our sense of sovereignty. Why is it, we wonder, that when we are around a certain person we cannot keep our composure?

Composure is something we try to keep, maintain or that we lose. It is the ‘default’ setting, it’s something already there. Showing the right levels of composure at the right time is all part of the performance of normal. Composure is a way of holding the self, it is a maintainance of social identity, it helps provide a distance from our desires. A healthy level of composure is required in order to function and perform well in a world where losing one’s composure brings shame, or is read as incapacity, madness. The anxiety we feel over the struggle to keep our composure around certain people is a struggle over the fear of being mis-recognised by those whose recognition is so fundamental to our sense of self. I decided to do away with sovereignty too following Berlant when grief taught me that other people undo us over and over in ways we are unable to predict and control. These sort of experiences reinforce the importance of composure whilst simultaneously it’s fragility becomes all too apparent. But in the face of loss composure is about all you have to protect you. Keeping your composure means the world can come up to you when you choose and you can keep it at a distance. You can protect yourself from the world, other people, from coming in and interrupting you again.

Then love taught me that composure is only a holding ground until you find an environment in which you can relinquish your composure. Love doesn’t let you keep your composure, it’s too greedy. Composure is willed not natural, love is fantasy, not conscious – that comes later.  A sense of sovereignty is considered a part of being a functional citizen and yet the moments of non-sovereignty are paradoxically seen as the moments where life truly takes place. Finding an easy friend, needing someone, thinking about someone, is what colours the otherwise weary days. It’s not so much the dependency that lifts the spirits but the chance to be recognised by another, for them to say ‘I see you’, for us to ‘feel ourselves’. I got obsessed with the MTV programme ‘Catfish’ as it documents a fascinating array of moments of misrecognition, of misplaced fantasies and overwhelming investments in a desired other. But as Catfish reveals, this sense of recognition is only the misrecognition we can bear, what we want to believe. We let someone carry an image of us, better than the one we can hold of ourselves.

ii. …never enough money, never enough love, and barely any rest…

Stories of love are all too often the plaster that fills in the cracks of the everyday overwhelmed life. Berlant’s ‘Cruel Optimism’ is remarkable in numerous regards but particularly in the way she describes how in modern industrial society the act of reproducing life (working for a living) is also the means of being worn out by it. We might not be fighting life and death on a daily basis, in fact the clinical, sanitized workplace might feel very detached from anything quite like a real experience. There’s something very ordinary about the crises encountered in the modern workplace. The labour is numbing and mundane, but still the dangers of precarity, little money, little time, work stress, and an exhaustion so very old and new all at the same time, feels pressingly real. As Berlant argues the feeling of deterioration is a fundamental part of the experience of modern working life. This not about a desire for the good life; it is the search for a less bad life. It is about finding resting places, someone who might understand our struggles, spacing out in mindless entertainment or seeking nourishment in food not for thought.

And modern life does provide pockets of intimacy to distract and soothe our overloaded sensorium: selling smiles and anecdotes on dating sites, or picking up whatever you can find on the weekend for some quick thrills and empty affection, or sleeping with him/her in the office.  We are provided with things that promise reprieve but not repair: sex, mindfulness courses, energy drinks, all help keep the machine running smoothly, help us to catch up with a present that is always already happening too quickly. We’re keeping our composure even in intimate relations, discomposure is too unsettling, we haven’t time to come undone. The situations within which lie the potential for change are kept at bay – even the previous radical practices: mindfulness, yoga, are emptied out, re-branded and co-opted as a form of niceness production that keep us striving for the status quo. We’re not aiming for the horizon, just spreading out sideways, passing under the radar. But this is not a comfortable position, there’s little safety inhabiting the normal. It is a constant bargaining with what you can bear.

iii. The concrete realisation of being the odd one out.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, the boundaries of normal are shifting all the time. This is what learning a bit of history can give you. ‘Doing your homework’ as Gayatri Spivak would say. This might sound less dramatic than it actually is. Encountering the fact that the prescriptions of the ‘good life’ you are encouraged to follow are not inevitable, and are in fact quite disagreeable, is the first step in the realisation of being the odd one out. Staying proximate to normality is a way of keeping out of view, toeing the line, not ruffling feathers. This is easily done if you happen to be born and grow up in a environment that is in line with the normative discourses on how best to live a life.  But you might grow up as always already the outsider. You’re the odd one out without even trying. Either way, interruptions can work to destabilize the most comfortable of existences – the wearing out of working life, death, loss, scouring love – can elucidate in an often very banal and depressing way that the life you were living was held up by a series of attachments: to a person, a job, an ideology, a cat, or anything in which you had invested your sense of endurance about life. Losing that thing, interrupting the fantasy to which you had attached to it, is I think crucial in coming to a critical awareness of the world in which you live. I don’t know, this is just a hunch, but I think there has to be a loss. Even if not tangible, just the process of losing your sense of privilege.  I don’t think there can be sovereignty in freedom. This is a view contrary to perhaps most movements that seek freedom, such as the recovery movement in mental health care, where freedom is conflated with reclaiming autonomy.

Discovering you are the odd one out, in my view is rather not about reclaiming sovereignty or autonomy but about dispensing with it entirely. Being the odd one out might sound like a passive position, but whilst yes you may feel as though you do not fit, you are also not accepting the life on offer. Who rejects who first is hard to tell, and perhaps not important. The rejection is not necessarily conscious either, we might spend many tiring years attempting to pass as normal before we realise that we had already given up on believing in the sustainability of this form of life a long time ago. This lag might mean we come to this impasse a little late, or not at all.

Talk of freedom might seem too corny and idealistic for jaded ears but again this might sound less radical than it actually is. It is a response that says: don’t try and reason, persuade, convince, expend energy as it does not serve you. When the system does not respect you, you owe nothing to it and you can make yourself free. And when I say freedom, I’m not speaking in sugarcoated tones, freedom without sovereignty is entering into what I can only describe as the realm of the ‘I don’t know’. It’s a liminal space, without boundaries or form, it is being in transit without knowing where it is leading. If you decide to reject the fantasies of the good life, than this is what you get. How to build a world that is not hopeless? Where to find a life worth living? In the liminal space of ‘I don’t know’ there is all to experience and different roads to go down. Choice is not pragmatic but whimsical. In this liminal space subjectivity is allowed the space to be non-sovereign, to be incoherent, changeable. We can mourn, love and lose our composure. The challenge is to find a sense of stability built through not being attached to what we attach to. Some call this nomadic theory, but I quite like unequal attachments that are sticky and messy. We might never quite become the person they wanted us to be, but in this liminal space of becoming the odd one out, unlike the cruel optimism of the fantastical good life, there are multiple exits.


Berlant, L. (2011). Cruel Optimism. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Reflections on Recovery: Research notes, Part II: Emotions, grievable lives and no recovery.

Read Part I first here.

1st March 2013

The past fortnight has felt a little meandering in regards to a specific focus of attention. This has not necessarily been a hindrance. I have mostly fixed my gaze on the reading of sociology and cultural analysis of emotions, with a few detours along the way.

A lot of the ideas and literature I have encountered have entailed a more contemplative mode of analysis, which feels like an ongoing process. Some of the texts have not been easy reading, especially thinking around ‘affect’, which is both an intellectually knotty concept as well as a demand, on the reader, to rethink one’s own affective response. In short, the delicate nature of the concepts I am dealing with has been brought quite sharply to my attention, especially when these ‘concepts’ are not just that, they are social constructions of a ‘real’ felt emotion – to return to a discussion we had a few weeks ago. Affect then perhaps is a way to describe that which remains outside of the concept; yet being both a socially named construct whilst also refuting social construction is why affect is proving such a slippery subject.

Affect however is not necessarily the focus of sociological explorations into emotions, the sociological view being one where emotions are an outcome and cause of social processes (Barbalet, 2001). For Barbalet it is not cultural rules and norms that shape emotions but the structural properties of social interactions that determine emotional experiences.  The culturalist perspective also borrows from social constructionist perspective but acknowledges the historical context, the situated-ness of emotions (Harding & Pribram, 2009). A culturalist perspective doesn’t limit its gaze to the individual but is instead engaged with how emotions, cultures and social formations are articulated in contextualised and historicised ways to produce boundaries that shape and position individuals and collectives. As Sara Ahmed describes, emotions produce the very surfaces and boundaries that allow the individual and the social to be delineated as if they were objects (Ahmed, 2004).

This way of thinking about emotions therefore maintains neither an ‘outside in’ nor an ‘inside out’ perspective. An outside in perspective would consider emotions as properties of social and cultural practices that ‘get inside’ the individual whereas an ‘inside out’ perspective would see emotions as something innate to the individual that emanate from within out onto the world. The inside out perspective is one that is broadly shared within the positive psychology/happiness/resilience camps where negative emotions (like depression, grief) are disturbances that leak out into the individual’s environment. Similarly it is the individual who has the power and responsibility to express positive emotions and happy feelings. By viewing emotions as something that emerges from an intersection of the two is a way to skirt sticky issues around free will in deciding how one presents or expresses themselves but also underlines the impossibilities of wrangling a subjective self from the social contexts, structures in which they are positioned. Perhaps Pierre Bourdieu’s (Wacquant, 1989) concept of ‘habitus’ can also be instructive here, which in thinking of how emotions shape boundaries also possesses a spatial quality in describing the ‘field’ of possibilities and struggles that moulds what is possible and how individuals are positioned.

Nikolas Rose, in line with Foucault, in his work on subjectivity (1989, 2007) persistently refuses to provide the self with any sense of agency that can be identified as originating from inside-out the individual. This is a view that frustrates Giddens-esque ideas around reflexive self-identity and sociological arguments that still maintain divisions between structure and agency, such as Gidden’s own structuration theory. What Rose’s work aims to demonstrate is as a culturalist theory would propose; that boundaries are created, in an ongoing process, between the individual and social such that they are established as objects – yet these objects cannot be identified as separate entities. As Ian Hacking (1986) has also argued; subjects are ‘made-up’ through various historical discourses and as these discourses shift so does the understanding of the subject.

In the new issue of Omega features an article by Tony Walter on disenfranchised grief (Walter & Robson, 2013). Walter argues against the idea of disenfranchised grief by arguing a person can undergo a ‘process of disenfranchisement’ but grief itself cannot be seen to be ‘disenfranchised.’ The use of the term disenfranchised constructs a binary that Walter argues is not applicable to grief. The assumption of disenfranchised grief theory supporters is that all grief should be made equal, that all norms around grief should be done away with. Walter argues that norms are essential to grieving and that not all losses are equal (e.g. can the loss of a goldfish be comparable to the death of a father) and thus we have hierarchies of grief that determine appropriate responses to grief. A mourning individual will only feel their position in the hierarchy negatively if they grieve too much or too little or if they feel their grief is not recognised correctly. In this situation the grieving individual may undergo a process of disenfranchisement.

This article provoked thoughts around recognition: both how recognition is sought and the failure to be recognised and what this entails for the construction of subjectivity and the expression of emotions. A piece by Jennifer Biddle (1997) described shame as a feeling that arises from the failure to be recognised. If a person’s grief is not recognised in the way the person would hope they might feel shame at grieving too much or too little. But it also might mean that the person’s position in the hierarchy is not recognised as being allowed to grieve. Walter’s idea of a hierarchy over disenfranchisement is understandable, yet the hierarchy he proposes leaves little space to understand complex or resistant emotions like ambivalence. A hierarchy of grief seems like a very crude gloss of the complex web of connections we have with one another that are often destabilised by grief.  A hierarchy is also constructed and maintained through what lives are considered ‘grievable’. To be considered grievable one has to have been recognised as living a life worth living whilst they were alive (Butler, 2004). It also supposes one accepts the position they find themselves. As Walter comments, to grieve too little or too much might require careful presentation of the self to appear to be grieving appropriately and thus elicit the appropriate responses from those around them. The grieving individual therefore might be recognised via the hierarchy yet might also still feel a sense of disenfranchisement due to the gap in felt emotion and the emotions they present to others. This gap might be filled with shame: the failure to be recognised.

Grief might then be felt as pathological, as a disturbance, as something that is leaking out onto the world. Grief becomes an unruly emotion to be managed rather than experienced. As Barbalet argued, emotions are not opposed to reason, they do not merely distract us from our purposes but re-establish those purposes anew (2001, p.31). Yet emotions such as grief are often considered as something that gets in the way. Time limits on grieving enforced by the demands of the workplace or by the DSM-5 or by a desire to avoid suffering, shape grief as an object to overcome. When something becomes our aim we establish a timeline to achieve it.

This has also made me reflect on the question ‘recovery of what?’ I have discussed grief above yet the question remains as to what precisely will be the focus of my looking into recovery. Though in a way to pose the question, ‘recovery of what?’ is instructive in itself by highlighting the need to posit an event or object from which one recovers (one can only recover when we have identified the object which is causing suffering – e.g. the first step on the road to recovery for an addict is to admit their problem). But it is also to ask what are we recovering, recovering what? Recovery is perhaps more accurately considered the process of adopting a new narrative, a narrative of self-empowerment, the sense of being strengthened by suffering, and thus appears as an act of covering over suffering rather than overcoming. The question of ‘recovery of what?’ is also muddled when we consider the extent to which we are encouraged to be prepared to recover for an event that has not yet happened. Happiness and resilience training in schools and life coaches etc are a fraction of the proliferation of the language of resilience into political, economic and social domains. So there exists a sense that we are already always recovering from something (life..?) because we are always discovering a new threat from which to protect ourselves from.


Ahmed, S. (2004). The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Barbalet, J. M. (2001). Emotion, Social Theory and Social Structure: A macrosociological approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Biddle, J. (1997). ‘Shame’, Australian Feminist Studies, 12(26): 227-239.

Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.

Hacking, I. (1986). ‘Making Up People’, in Bagioli, M. (ed) (1999) The Science Studies Reader (pp. 161-171). London: Routledge.

Harding, D. and Pribram, D. (2009). ‘Introduction: the case for a cultural emotion studies’ in (eds) Emotions: A cultural studies reader (pp 1-24) Oxon: Routledge.

Rose, N. (1989). Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self. London: Free Associations Books.

Rose, N. (2007) The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. New Jersey: PrincetonUniversity Press.

Wacquant, L. (1989). ‘Towards a reflexive sociology: A workshop with Pierre Bourdieu’, Sociological Theory, 7: 26-63.

Walter, T. and Robson, P. (2013). ‘Hierarchies of Loss: A critique of disenfranchised grief.’ Omega, 66(2): 97-119.

13th March 2013

I have to begin with the caveat that the past ten days have not seen as much thought time as I would have wished, I have been attending various workshops at the university as well as seeking out other opportunities such as conferences and networking possibilities, so what I have to present my not be as substantial as hoped.

To begin, I came across a film centred on the theme of recovery featuring people who had undergone treatment for mental illness describing their personal experiences. This was a film conceived by ‘service user’ Michelle McNary along with the support of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation trust and was first released in 2009. It is available to watch online here: http://www.slam.nhs.uk/patients/recovery.aspx . There is also literature about the making of the film, for example this leaflet: http://www.slam.nhs.uk/media/115062/recovery_booklet.pdf, which provides further interesting information on the origins of the modern concept of recovery (which I am in the processing of reading in more detail). The film itself presents four people talking about their (ongoing) experience with recovery from various mental illnesses. The film is a rich source of recovery narratives, particularly the way in which people describe their experiences and the extent to which they identify with having a mental illness. Recovery was broadly understood as a way of coping with an illness as well as having a life. There was also a sense of the importance of recognising one’s self as mentally ill as the first step on the ‘road to recovery’. However though recovery is meant (or at least was meant) as a way to live a life with an illness rather than search for a cure; a way that was intended to put power and control back in the hands of the patient as opposed to the doctor/psychiatrist etc, the individual accounts were cluttered with talk of building a new life, creating a new identity, recovery was a ‘second chance’, a ‘rebirth’. And the possibilities of this new life were very much fostered by hope and positive thinking.

I was reminded of a short video interview where Nikolas Rose touches upon the idea of recovery. It is a ten-minute video available to watch here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8mkcXdTZ_g. Rose starts to talk about recovery about 5 minutes in. I have transcribed some of his key remarks below:

But now in the same way as empowerment, people are obliged to recover, obliged to live a life and what does it mean to live a life today? It means to be in charge of your money, it probably means to have a job, it means to have housing, it means to be independent, it means to have choices, it means to be on Facebook, it means a hundred different things, all these obligations today. So in a sense recovery has the potential, and I think we can see this in some way, to be a kind of process of normalisation where recovery means from the professional point of view, demonstrate to me that you can live what I take to be a normal life, and I think those people who are arguing for normalisation did so for all the best possible motives… But I think the obligation to recover is linked to a reduction in the tolerance of our society for difference. And the belief that there is only one proper way to live your life and if you don’t live your life in this way, if you’re not autonomous, if you’re dependent on someone, if you need care all the time, if sometimes you don’t want to go to work, if couple of weeks you just want to stay at home and not talk to anybody, well that’s pretty pathological, and you’ve got to be brought back to being in a normal way of living. So that’s what I mean by being an obligation to recover rather than perhaps a toleration of the many different ways in which people actually do live their lives.

The idea of the obligation to recover as a reduction in tolerance of the different ways people live their lives has been such a useful tool to think with, both personally and professionally. For the individuals featured in the film it seemed that recognising oneself as ill was not so much a radical gesture to live a life based on this difference but more an acknowledgment that sent them on the road to adjustment.

I also returned back to Jeffery Kauffman’s (2008) great article ‘What is “No recovery?”’, which has many points to unpack, the central being the exploration of the idea of ‘no recovery’ not as a transitional state but as a condition of existence. On a parallel point, I read an article on the BBC about Paul Gascoigne and his recent return to rehab. There was a comment in the article by an addiction counsellor where they stated: ‘Relapse is part of recovery’. I found this poignant that even failures could become incorporated into this bigger more meaningful narrative of recovery. There was clearly a sense that recovery is the normative response, and perhaps the only desirable one, as failures too become meaningful as part of the road to recovery. There is the belief that no recovery is always a transitional state; ‘You’ll get over this’.

Kauffman looks upon no recovery as a product of a society where there is a loss of traditionally accepted authority over mourning. No recovery, and the questioning of recovery, is then a degradation of normative authority. I would add here that questioning recovery is also a result of becoming more aware of the ways people recover and live their lives following loss or the onset of illness. The eradication of traditional norms allows this questioning to become possible.

Kauffman also describes how recovery and identity are bound together so that without recovery there is no reflexive sense of identity. So like the individuals in the film, recovery was only possible through the adoption of a new identity and vice versa. A narrative of no recovery is not a rebirth. As Kauffman describes it:

No recovery is a volatile state of identity diffusion, in which one is always a stranger from oneself, and in significant ways also estranged from others. (2008, p76)

Here I am reminded of Judith Butler (2004) and her description of grief as being ‘beside oneself’. This type of estrangement might be commonly identified as a feature of grieving, yet Kauffman argues that recovery is not a transition out of this state but only indicative of the capacity to function and adapt to this state, which would then be labelled as recovery by others. Recovery is then a simulation that functions in place of a reality of no recovery. Recovery is a process of social adjustment (or normalisation to quote Rose) that induces people to forget. The search for a new identity and narratives of rebirth involves a strong dose of forgetfulness according to Kauffman. This idea of forgetfulness as key to recovery I find particularly interesting, and it is also a point made by Sara Ahmed (2010), who describes how recovery can often become a means of ‘covering over’. In this sense recovery is not so much a return to past selves (those selves are forgotten) but a better improved self.  It also implies that certain things must be forgotten in order to recover.

To extend this idea further there is also perhaps a connection to be made between forgetfulness and the pace of modern life. A book by Milan Kundera entitled ‘Slowness’ focuses on the absence of slowness in our lives and makes an interesting observation on the link between slowness/speed and the process of memory:

There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting… In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.

Kundera concludes that the modern drive for speed and efficiency is in fact caused by a desire to forget, to eradicate memory before it has chance to materialize. It may be that the very nature of modernity is so that all experiences, ideas and indeed memories are disallowed the opportunity to solidify. Modernity encourages us to forget. In terms of recovery, the incentive to recover in an appropriate time period might induce a necessary forgetfulness both of a life experienced in the past but also of the present experience of grief. The degree of speed in which one is encouraged to recover might mean painful memories are not allowed to be pondered, that is to say dwelling in loss is discouraged or considered contrary to recovery.

I want to end with some thoughts on Maurice Bloch’s ‘The Blob’ which I found very instructive in terms of thinking about the self as both a continuum and a relational self, and included many other points to think through. Bloch also made a useful distinction between the narrative self and the self that narrates, and the way the blob might present a narrative to others is not the same as exposing themselves or their personhood. Thinking about this in terms of the ideas of recovery discussed above, recovery is often very much a narrative that is interpreted and presented. The people featured in the recovery film for example were carefully selected as being articulate and able to answer questions coherently. Though the film was designed as a way to get to the ‘reality’ of personal recovery it offered only the expected narratives of new identity and rebirth etc. For no recovery has no language, it is only the underside of the positive language of recovery. As Kauffman and Rose described recovery is only a demonstration of the ability to live whatever is considered to be a normal life. But underlying this perhaps is the idea of the impossibility of recovery, and that none of us actually recover, only some are better at demonstrating it than others. What makes some better at recovering than others is then not so much a personal matter of individual will and resilience but the ability to find certain narratives of recovery meaningful, of the ability to adjust to social life – get a job, be on Facebook etc as Rose outlined. Something else that was also repeated in the film on recovery was the importance of hope to recovery. There had to be a continual belief and hope in the possibility of recovery else recovery would fall apart. Hope was then the object that kept them tied to an identity of recovery that acted as a reminder that recovery was only a transitional state. In no recovery there is no hope. Yet I think it would be more fruitful to not end there by saying no recovery disallows hope but rather that focussing on recovery disallows no recovery as a possibility and thus reduces the different ways to live a life. When relapses also become part of recovery, recovery becomes a limiting narrative to live by. This is arguably not a very hopeful way to live a life. That is not to reject recovery as a possibility, but to say that neither recovery nor no recovery should be our talisman, or what fills our hopes and dreams. Rather it is to suggest ways of recovering inappropriately or not recovering successfully; ways of living that expand the possibilities of what is considered a life worth living.


Ahmed, S. (2010). The Promise of Happiness. Durham and London: Duke University  Press.

Bloch, M. (2011) ‘The Blob’, Anthropology of the Century, Issue 1.

Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.

Kauffman, K. (2008). What is “No Recovery”?. Death Studies32(1), 74-83.